Bob Talbot – a tantalising glimpse of the man behind the camera

I had the excellent fortune to meet and interview Bob Talbot in May 2011. We met while I was accompanying and writing about Peggy Stap of Marine Life Studies (MLS) in Monterey Bay, California. At the time Bob was up-to-his-neck-busy with the filming of a wildlife documentary. Peggy, Jenna (a volunteer with MLS) and I accompanied Bob on one of his research/filming boats for a day, to the benefit of all; Peggy was conducting orca research and Bob was in need of some filmed footage on orcas, a winning combination. We spent the day on the waters of Monterey Bay hunting, (not literally), some cunningly deceptive and illusive killer whales. We were also treated to some splashes of hang-on-to-anything-your-hands-can-reach accelerating take-offs, which Bob with a boyish love for adrenalin-fueled high speed, liked to momentarily indulge in. Of course, with the bay being home to such a diversity of life vulnerable to boat collisions, propellers and noise, these were transitory moments; like a car manically pulling away from the stoplight, only to relax into a safe, speed limit abiding ride.

Luckily the adrenalin rush did not put me off and, after meeting Bob a couple of times, I asked him if I could chat with him further. In a rather bemused state, he agreed. We met one evening on board his larger more comfortable research boat and talked in-depth for a couple of hours. It is thanks to his quietly charismatic presence, intensely interesting personal ethos, and candidly open replies to my questions, (along with some messily scribbled notes), that I can write about that conversation almost a year later.

For anyone who does not know the name Bob Talbot, this might refresh your memory. Did you ever own or ever see a poster sized photograph, probably framed, of a whale’s tail as it dived down to the depths, with the iconic word T A L B O T written along the bottom? Well, that is Bob. Or was Bob. Bob initially became well known for his photographic work of whales. These days he is predominantly a filmmaker. The list of movies and series which he has filmed, directed and/or photographed for include such inspirational titles as Flipper and Free Willy, and more recently the IMAX films Dolphins – The Ride and Oceanmen – Extreme Dive. You can bet any amount of money you like that there is more than one cetacean conservationist in the world who first became inspired to study and protect dolphins and whales through seeing something Bob photographed or filmed.

Bob is also, and always has been, a strong environmentalist. Intrinsic to his character are his environmental beliefs and sense of duty or ‘call to action’. It is these underlying traits that have always underpinned his work as a photographer and filmmaker. Over the years he has earned such accolades as the Environmental Hero Award and the SeaKeeper Award and collaborated with such eminent organisations as the Cousteau Society. In keeping with his inclusive attitude towards utilising both soft, educational, diplomatic approaches and tougher, activist, hard-hitting ones, he is on the board of such diverse organisations as The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

I was intrigued to uncover the thoughts, feelings and motivations that lie beneath the surface of this proactive, highly respected and experienced filmmaker. I also wanted to learn more about the film project closest to Bob’s heart which he is currently engaged in filming, directing and producing; LegaSea.

On conversing with Bob, I discovered a person with a deep sense of moral values, passion, integrity and justice. I also discovered someone who is just as deeply affected by the apparent lack of these same attributes in the world at large. Like many conservationists and environmentalists, Bob is motivated by both positively and negatively charged driving forces; one motivational force is full of love, curiosity and passion for all that is good and beautiful in this world, the other is in defiance of all that is ugly. The latter driving force was, inevitably, born out of witnessing human actions and their devastating consequences.

I will end this post with a preview of personal reflections from Bob:

“Kids know what is right. I remember being very young, under five years old, and we were at a market. There was a big plastic cow on show to advertise the meat being sold. I remember connecting the chunks of meat with the cow. It seemed silly to show the cow; I mean, there was no buffer! I could instantly see that it didn’t seem right to be eating the meat that came from that animal. Kids know some things innately, but it gets beaten out of us as we grow up.

But then again, maybe it is just me… I might be a mutant! Compassion is not good for the gene pool; ruthlessness is what works. So at times I wonder why I get so worked up!

Sometimes I feel it can be a curse to see suffering and injustice so clearly and to feel compelled to act and do something about it…”

My next post will elaborate on Bob’s perspective, opinions and motivations, all of which have led him to embark on his current groundbreaking LegaSea Project.

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